Boxing is back on premium cable, jump in! It's a hell of a week, and you'll need all the help you can get deciding what to watch. There are Saturday night shows on both U,S. premium boxing networks, Vanes Martirosyan vs. Erislandy Lara on HBO and Abner Mares vs. Anselmo Moreno on Showtime. The undercards of those fights, featuring Mikey Garcia and Leo Santa Cruz, respectively, aren't half bad either.
Apart from that there's heavyweight top dog Wlad Klitschko fighting very soon after the death of his trainer and mentor, Emmanuel Steward; top featherweight Chris John fighting in Singapore; and featherweight prospect Gary Russell, Jr. beating up one of the usual suspects.
Abner Mares vs. Anselmo Moreno, Saturday, Showtime, Los Angeles. This fight, which TQBR founder Tim Starks will preview in detail later in the week, is perhaps the best match-up between an exceptional offensive boxer and an exceptional defensive boxer in recent years. There are four men at junior featherweight who seem like contenders for the championship, Mares, Moreno, Nonito Donaire and Guillermo Rigondeaux, and all four of them could easily be champion if they weren't so unlucky as to be in the same weight class as the others. Their bad luck is fans' good luck, and Saturday brings the first of what will hopefully be a merry-go-round of mouth-watering bouts. Los Angeles' Mares (24-0-1) is all fight. Though gritty and tough, the diminutive Mexican-American is nevertheless very well drilled – he has the full toolkit of legal punches and a few other tactics besides. Panama's Moreno (33-1-1) is a defensive wizard, defeating all comers since 2002 and positively embarrassing Vic Darchinyan last December, a win that looks better all the time. A ducking, rolling, jabbing southpaw, Moreno is extremely hard to connect on and has a height and reach advantage over Mares. I just can't get away from Mares' never-say-die mentality, though. He just doesn't take no for an answer and always finds a way to win. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I think that's what he'll do here, possibly in an ugly fight. On the televised undercard, Mexican bantamweight Leo Santa Cruz (21-0-1) faces compatriot Victor Zaleta (20-2-1), who's moving up from junior bantam. Both are very tall for their weight class, but they couldn't be more different fighters. Santa Cruz is a mini Antonio Margarito, a volume punching swarmer, while Zaleta is more a jabber. Zaleta is solid but not world beating, and has tasted than canvas under lesser assaults than that of Santa Cruz. Give me Santa Cruz by body-shot stoppage. Other undercard fights, including big names Alfredo Angulo (junior middleweight) and Nathan Cleverly (light heavyweight), will be available for viewing on Showtime Extreme earlier in the night.
Erislandy Lara vs. Vanes Martirosyan, Saturday, HBO, Las Vegas. This one's for the hardcore fans – the ones that follow boxing day in and day out. Lara (17-1-1) and Martirosyan (32-0) have already fought a war of words on Twitter. Lara has become an adopted fan favourite after a terribly scored loss to Paul Williams and a long period of being avoided, while Martirosyan has been widely pilloried by fans for constantly calling fighters out and then balking when the time comes to sign on the dotted line. But apart from all that drama, it's a significant junior middleweight fight in its own right; Lara and Martirosyan are respectively #3 and #10 in the division in the eyes of Transnational Boxing Ranking's Board. Lara is a classy Cuban southpaw, not as tentative as some of the other boxers under that label. His straight left is pinpoint accurate and his footwork, like most Cubans, is something to behold. Martirosyan, who has eaten a steady diet of gatekeepers since 2008, is a fast handed, relatively powerful boxer-puncher. But even against limited opposition, the Armenian-American has been sorely tested. Many (this writer included) thought he should have lost to Kassim Ouma in 2010, and he was dropped in the 1st round before coming back to stop Saul Roman last year. His right hand is his bread and butter, a good omen against a southpaw, but I doubt his three years of sideways career movement have prepared him for a fighter of the likes of Lara. Give me the Cuban, by decision or late stoppage. Also televised will be a featherweight fight between Mikey Garcia (29-0) and Jonathan Barros (34-3-1). Barros is standing in for Orlando Salido, who slammed his finger in a car door (car doors seem to have something against Mexican boxers). He's a decent enough opponent, tough enough to have gotten up from a body shot knockdown delivered by Yuriorkis Gamboa in 2010. He's made a fight of it every time he's stepped up in class, win or lose. I don't think he has it in him to beat Garcia, though, who's just too tight. They'll trade some might left hooks, though.
Wladimir Klitschko vs. Mariusz Wach, Saturday, Epix, Hamburg. I'm not entirely sure this rates a full paragraph of preview, but here goes. Klitschko (58-3) has hardly lost a round, let alone a fight, since the mid 2000s. That has been in a good part thanks to his former trainer and mentor Emmanuel Steward, who died less than two weeks ago. Wach (27-0) has few credentials even to be challenging for the heavyweight title, apart from being tall, Polish and new. Can he exploit Wlad's emotional state? I really doubt it. Wlad by earlier-than-usual stoppage. In a split-site double header, Epix are also broadcasting heavyweights Robert Helenius (17-0) and Sherman Williams (35-11-2) fighting in Helsinki, Finland. Helenius is coming back from a year off after getting a gift against Dereck Chisora, while Williams is a never-was.
The Rest. Friday sees featherweight Chris John (47-0-2) fighting Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (44-0), who might be good, but it's kind of hard to tell because he's never fought outside Thailand. John's never-leave-Asia, never-fight-real-contenders routine is getting kind of old... Friday sees a ShoBox card featuring molly-coddled featherweight prospect Gary Russel., Jr. (20-0) against Roberto Castaneda (20-2-1), coming off a loss to Christopher Martin (not of Coldplay)... Promising South African super middleweight prospect Thomas Oosthuizen (20-0-1) takes on long time trial horse Fulgencio Zuniga (25-5-1) in South Africa Saturday, while junior welterweight Humberto Soto (58-8-2) looks to rebound from his loss to Lucas Matthysse by facing Jose Lopez (17-2-1) at home in Mexico.